So You Want to Follow Jesus? Really?
Rev. Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, June 25th, 2017
To want to tell you that the air conditioner is working in every other room except this one. And I will also tell you if this is your first time at Chandler you’re getting a good view of who we are. If you’re looking for an uptight church you are in the wrong place. We are who we are and we gently carefully help one another along. That is to say that if you have children sitting next to you that feel especially wiggly, the chair next to you is a good place to be wiggly. And the aisle is a good place to run up and down in celebration of God’s presence. If you cannot have fun with God, I don’t know what to do. Let me also say this: if you are uncomfortable right now, the hallway is cooler. You can step into the hallway. It’s actually cooler in the front than it is in the back. So those of you who sit in the back are finally getting what you deserve. [laughter] I was teasing.
This passage actually happens to be one of my favorites in all of Scripture for two reasons. The first is because it spells out for us exactly what happens when we are unsure about a relationship. Peter is the one who talked big about what he was going to do and be for Jesus. Peter approached every problem with an open mouth. He said: I’m there for you, Lord; I will not let you down Lord. I’ll follow you, Lord; I’ve got your back. And then when Jesus needed him he looked to the left and he looked to his right and Peter was neither. Peter’s feet had gotten the better of his mouth and he went off to hide. Isn’t that how it is in a lot of relationships when people want something from us they talk big. Maybe we do that with others but let’s talk about other people who are not here. That’s not us; right? We never let anybody down. We always follow through on what we say we will do, right?
So Peter has abandoned Jesus. Peter is in the boat with the other disciples after Jesus has disappeared, raised from the dead. It is the women who came to say that the tomb is empty and the angels had said he was raised from the dead. And you know in the 1st century, women – well — you don’t believe them; we don’t treat women like that anymore. So Peter didn’t know what to think and he said to the other disciples: I’m going fishing: who’s coming with me? It’s nice to be with Jesus, right? It’s really exciting to be — it’s fun to be with Jesus when he is right there; you know what’s going on. It’s good to be with Jesus. But then when you’re not sure what you should do with yourself you just go back to old habits, right? You know what to do, you fish.
Well it’s hot and they are fishing and Peter has taken off all of his clothes; many of the disciples may have taken off all their clothes. We only know about Peter; he’s fishing naked. That’s fine; it is a fairly common practice in the Mediterranean. He sees Jesus on the beach; they all do but they don’t recognize him. He gives them some instruction: tells them cast your nets over here you will catch more fish — they do — and then Peter recognizes Jesus. I like that because it has something to say about what we look for in others; tells us how we recognize them. Are we able to see them for who they really are? I don’t know about you but in my relationships I fall into habits there too. I expect people to be the same always. And by my expectation I cull creativity; I compress; I drive out creativity because that would mean they would be something I’m not accustomed to. I know we say we want our kids to be creative but we expect them to be what we want them to be right now what they were when we thought they were good.
Well Peter and the other disciples cast the net where Jesus tells them. They haul a whole load of fish. The net doesn’t tear maybe that’s the miracle. They recognize Jesus for who he is and this is my favorite part. Peter who has been naked — he’s fishing — he puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea. I suppose when you are unsure about the relationship it’s easy to lose clarity about whether your clothes should be on or off. And that opens up a whole room of places for us to go thinking this afternoon about times we felt pressured in our clothes or out of our clothes and the insecurity of the relationship that that reveals.
The other reason that I really like this passage is it gives us a front row view of what belief and faith and righteousness mean. Let me tell you what I mean. Our cultural church, our cultural religion, dating all the way back to about 1865 has defined those words in very specific ways; righteousness for our cultural religion means being good enough for God. And we get into this whole thing about my sins will be wiped away, we’ll all be white as snow, and therefore worthy to be present before the Lord; but I got to try too. The message about cultural religion is: be good enough to earn your way into God’s presence, righteousness. Belief has come to mean: what you have in your head about the crazy stuff about Jesus. Do I intellectually ascend that Jesus actually walked on the water, belief. That’s what belief has come to mean. It’s what I have in my head about the person of Jesus. Do you believe Jesus healed, do you believe that Jesus ascended, do you have right belief? It’s about what’s in your head. Faith has come in our cultural religion to mean very similar to how we define belief, it is what we hold on to and what we have and it’s have more faith and it’s a possession we accumulate. We are putting beliefs in our little bag that we hold onto it and we carried it and we say it makes us good and it is part of righteousness. All three of those kind of go together in our cultural religion.
The problem is that this is not what they mean in First Century Greek. Righteousness is actually the Hebrew word that has been passed over. The word is tsadik, it is a word of the Royal Court; it has to do with access to the king and who gets in to presence of the king. The king was very protected; you don’t see the king; you don’t approach the king; you don’t ask the king; you do not request the king, nothing. You are invited into the presence of the king. It is by invitation only, and it is a gift. Tsadik, it is what righteousness means; it is a gift from God to you. You have access to the king, you are given access to the king. In the Old Testament and in the Hebrew and in the first century Greek, the caution is always the same. Never, ever, ever presume that you have earned access to the king. It is always a gift. If you strut around and you proclaimed that you earned access to the king, you will lose your head. It’s a gift; it is not an accomplishment. Tuck that away as you think about righteousness, access to the king, it’s been given to you.
Belief is another word that we’ve redefined in twenty-one centuries. In the First Century Greek belief is the word pisti and it simply means that what is important to you — if I’m going to believe in you — what is important to you becomes important in me. And so when Jesus says believe in me, he’s not saying intellectually accend to all the weird stuff that people say about me. He saying: make what is important to me important to you. In our text today we get the final words that he has to say to his disciples: feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my lambs. That is something to chew on this afternoon, if you believe. If you wanting to make what is important to Jesus important to you: feed my lambs. What does that mean? What does that mean for you today? Chew on that.
Faith is actually the bigger part of pisti, which is belief; pistis, that is faith. Faith is actually a question. Faith is: will you act on what you believe? If what is important to Jesus is important to you, will you act on it? Well if you’re tucking it up into your head as intellectual assent and knowledge that you carry around that. I know lots of things about Jesus. You are not going to do anything. Knowledge does not make us do anything. Knowledge is stuff we carry around; it is not faith. Will you act on what you believe? That’s the question of faith. You are granted presence of the king. Today in our text, Peter and the disciples have blown it. They know they have blown it; they are terribly guilty. Peter is confused; Jesus comes to them. The question is, will you continue to make what is important to me important to you. Jesus asks this three times: do you love me Peter? Make what is important to me important to you. Do you love me Peter? This is what love looks like: what is important to me becomes important to you. That’s great for your relationships. If you’re struggling with your primary relationships with what love means; write that one down. What is important to you becomes important to me. It’s a both way thing and will you act on what you believe? It is three little words and I think they make all the difference.